Alabama Dept. of Corrections Required To Provide ‘Dozens’ of Improvements for HIV-Positive Inmates Under Settlement
The Alabama Department of Corrections is required to provide "dozens" of improvements in living conditions and medical care for the state's HIV-positive inmates under a settlement signed Wednesday by the department, Birmingham-based NaphCare -- the prison system's former medical contractor -- and plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit, the Birmingham News reports (Crowder, Birmingham News, 5/27). The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights in August 2003 released a report on the 300-person HIV unit at Athens, Ala., Limestone Correctional Facility as part of the lawsuit, Leatherwood et al. v. Campbell, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in March 2003 by the center against DOC and NaphCare. The 125-page report provided a detailed case summary of the deaths of 38 HIV-positive inmates between 1999 and 2002 and concluded that the unit's medical care system was substandard. According to the report, in nearly all of the 38 deaths, "death was preceded by a failure to provide proper medical care or treatment" and "preventable illnesses" caused all of the deaths. In addition, the report said that the "overcrowded," side-by-side, head-to-toe bunk beds of the facility "placed these immune-compromised patients and the staff at an undue risk of acquiring contagious diseases" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/26). Under the 19-page settlement released Wednesday, DOC must allow a medical consultant to monitor the conditions of the HIV unit on a quarterly basis for two years (Birmingham News, 5/27). In addition, DOC must hire a full-time nurse to coordinate infection control and inmate medical care. Prison Health Services, DOC's new medical provider, already has physicians and an HIV specialist treating Limestone's HIV-positive inmates. "One of the challenges in the negotiations was that in the middle of the lawsuit" there was a change in health care providers from NaphCare to PHS, Ken Palombo, vice president of PHS's legal department said, adding, "There was a lot of things the plaintiffs wanted and we said, 'No problem, we do it anyway.'"
The settlement also prohibits DOC from housing inmates in "dormitories or open-bay housing" and requires the department to clean inmates' cells on a daily basis, according to the Associated Press (Jafari, Associated Press, 5/26). The settlement bans DOC from requiring HIV-positive inmates to provide emergency medical care to other HIV-positive inmates or to place deceased HIV-positive inmates in body bags, both practices that occurred in the past. The settlement allows prisoners to keep their medication with them and requires prison personnel to deliver medicines to acutely ill patients. In the past, patients were required to wake up at 3 a.m. to line up outside to receive their medication. The settlement also calls for HIV-positive inmates' meals to be served before 5 a.m.; previously, inmates took their medication without food, which can prevent it from working properly and cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting. In addition, the settlement calls for improvements in dental care, the constant provision of fresh water and better pest control. The total costs of the settlement are unclear, but the state will pay $16,000 per year for a medical consultant and $1,500 per autopsy for deceased HIV-positive inmates, according to the News. "These people have lived ... in an egregious situation for a very long time at Limestone," SCHR attorney Joshua Lipman said, adding that the inmates overall were satisfied with the settlement. "We do still deny any constitutional violation with regards to care at Limestone," DOC spokesperson Brian Corbett said, adding, "Based on the costs and risks of litigation, we feel it's in the best interest of the state to reach this compromise agreement" (Birmingham News, 5/27).